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Sometimes, when someone or something close to you dies, the only way we know how to cope is to replace that person or thing with something new. If your dog dies, replace it with a new puppy. Or in the case of James Gandolfini's character in Jake Scott's "Welcome to the Rileys," adopt a 16-year-old stripper to deal with losing your teen-age daughter. Gandolfini plays Doug, and while it's always tough to separate the actor from Tony Soprano, here he affects a lisp and hard-to-place Midwestern accent (or maybe Southern?). Doug runs a successful plumbing wholesale supply store in Indianapolis and is married to Lois, played by Melissa Leo. Early in the film, we see a crumbling marriage as the two struggle to deal with the death of their 15-year-old daughter. Lois is cold and distant, while Doug has an affair with a local waitress. The gloominess surrounding the couple threatens to overwhelm. Thankfully, much of it takes place in New Orleans, where Doug's attending a convention.
At the convention, Doug's mind is clearly elsewhere. So he skips out and stops by a strip club. He seems to be there for a distraction. But he reluctantly follows stripper Mallory, played by "Twilight's" Kristen Stewart, to the champagne room.
Mallory thrusts her sexuality upon Doug, but he shuts her down. She's just doing her job, but he's not having any of it. Doug offers to drive her home. She lives in the seedy part of town. Doug drops her off, but after seeing the state of her place he isn't ready to leave. Mallory offers him more sex, but Doug wants to play savior.
Doug calls his wife to say he's not coming home, and he doesn't know why. Doug stays with Mallory on the condition that he pays her $100 a day to live there. He sleeps on the pullout couch snoring like a lion and she curls up next to him in a T-shirt and thong but nothing happens.
Doug embraces the savior role, fixing her clogged toilet, getting her electricity turned back on, fending off her creepy landlord and even telling her she has to pay him a dollar every time she uses the f-word. The script bludgeons us with the idea that his platonic relationship with her is a way for him to have his dead daughter back.
Still, Gandolfini resists playing every scene as the grieving, depressed shell of a man. Although his motives are unclear at times, the believability of his character never falters. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Stewart. Miles from the chaste Bella Swan of "Twilight," Stewart is raw, spontaneous and fiery in some scenes, but, for the most part, comes across like she's still in rehearsal mode. A credit goes to the script that she never has to play the stripper-with-the-heart-of-gold card. Bronze is the closest she comes.
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